So far, the biggest thing in 2011, in the PC world that is, was Intel's launch of its new CPU microarchitecture. These second-gen Intel Core processors, also known as Sandy Bridge, have taken a while to arrive, but as our own testing showed, these processors are definitely worth overhauling your desktop PC for. In fact, that's exactly what you need to do, since the new CPU microarchitecture is on a whole new platform that is not at all backwards compatible.
Despite a performance level that even encroaches on Intel's highest end Core i7-980X Extreme Edition 6-core processor, the Sandy Bridge processors are meant for the mainstream market. After all, it's this market segment that could put its integrated graphics core to some use. However, Intel's not forgetting those who require more powerful graphics than even the improved Intel HD graphics on Sandy Bridge is capable of. For these users, the only motherboards to pair with their shiny new Sandy Bridge processors are those with Intel's P67 Express chipset onboard.
We have talked a bit about the Intel P67 Express chipset in our Sandy Bridge review, but to summarize the major changes: two native SATA 6Gbps ports from the chipset and eight PCIe 2.0 lanes with up to 5Gb/s bandwidth each. That's a significant boost in PCIe bandwidth and encourages vendors to add more onboard devices like more SATA or USB controllers to fully utilize them. Those hoping for native USB 3.0 support will be disappointed but with practically all motherboard vendors (even Intel) implementing USB 3.0 through third-party solutions from firms like NEC, there's nothing really to complain.
Manufacturers have as usual seized the opportunity to launch new refreshes of their product lines, as the mainstream prices of Sandy Bridge processors promise to bring in the bulk of CPU sales, and P67 motherboards, with their capacity for additional features, offer them the most potential for markups and profits. With this in mind, we have chosen to feature six mid-range P67 motherboards from ASRock, ASUS, ECS, Gigabyte, Intel and MSI. Remember, these are not the higher-end ones chock full of extra perks like 3-way multi-GPU support and the boards we've got in this roundup are generally affordable for the mainstream crowd. Nevertheless, they have plenty to offer and should be sufficient for many users.